By November 19, 2010 7 Comments Read More →

Safety First – Even at a Northwestern Football Game?

I’m really excited that I’m going to be attending tomorrow’s Northwestern football game that’s being played at Wrigley Field, the legendary baseball stadium that opened in 1912. This will be the first college game played there since 1938 and the first pro game since 1970 (yes, the Bears used to play there).

It’s going to be a really unique experience, but I hope the game ends up being safe for all of the players.

I’m not wringing my hands over the usual unfortunate injuries that can occur. But there is a special risk for Saturday’s game that you might have heard about on ESPN.

The Bears football field used to run from left field down toward home plate. It barely fit, as shown below. Rumor had it that the end zones were only 8 yards deep, instead of the usual 10 (or something to that effect).

Wrigley has been modified since 1970 to add a few more pricey seats for the Cubbies. With the modifications (and even with removing a few seats along the third base side), the field barely fits, once again. This time it rights down the right field line, as shown in this picture.

The problem is that there’s only about 6 inches of space behind the right field end zone before you get to the pads that are covering the famous ivy wall, as shown here in the full image (you really need to click on that link to appreciate what I’m talking about). Here’s another striking image.

There’s such a lack of space that the goal post is mounted onto the right field wall (and as a fun aside, field goals may fly out onto Sheffield Avenue, as there’s no net for the goal posts). And, of course, if Northwestern fans catch an Illinois field goal, we’ll throw it back as they do for visitor home runs at Cubs games.

Back to the issue at hand — is that safe having the wall that close to the field? I’ll basically turn off my “lean brain” on Saturday, but it’s a legitimate issue for a “workplace” (the players get free tuition on scholarship, so it’s a form of compensation).

A Lean organization makes safety the top priority, whether it’s a factory or a hospital (where patient safety AND employee safety both matter). Here is what Toyota’s Taiichi Ohno wrote on the subject.

The Wildcats and the Illini all say the situation is considered safe enough, that they’re not worried. From this article:

Don’t expect any deep routes with tiptoe reaches on the end line. But other than sensible play-calling, both coaches said they’re confident the safety question has been asked and answered.

”Both universities felt great about it from a risk-management standpoint,” NU coach Pat Fitzgerald said. ”It will be an element in the game, but we’ll plan accordingly.”

Like Fitzgerald, Illinois coach Ron Zook trusts that school officials investigated the safety issue fully before proceeding.

”If they don’t make it in the NFL, they can go into the Arena (Football) League,” said Zook, who kidded with his receivers about the confining confines of Wrigley. ”There are a couple of areas that are tight. But I don’t think it’s as big a deal as everybody’s trying to make it.”

I hope they’re right. Generally, “hope is not a strategy” when it comes to safety or quality. I hope NU wins, I hope we have a great time, and I hope nobody gets hurt running into that brick wall. I won’t drain the fun out of the game, but the P.R. bonanza for my alma mater (ESPN Gameday will be there) could turn into a real bust if somebody busts into that wall.

Safety first?

You can see a ton of pictures here at the Chicago Tribune website.

GO CATS!


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Mark Graban's passion is creating a better, safer, more cost effective healthcare system for patients and better workplaces for all. Mark is a consultant, author, and speaker in the "Lean healthcare" methodology. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent project is an eBook titled Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus.

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7 Comments on "Safety First – Even at a Northwestern Football Game?"

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  1. GO CATS! says:

    They heeded the safety concerns:

    http://sports.espn.go.com/chicago/ncf/news/story?id=5824661

    They are only going to use the one endzone for offense, basically.

    Safety first, hooray!

  2. John Hunter says:

    Isn’t this more like safety as an afterthought? It seems pretty funny that they will be using 1 end zone. It does seem better to make the rare (or maybe unprecedented, but I doubt it) decision to use only one end zone. they also are going to have both teams on the same side of the field (I think) instead of opposite sides, which I imagine is going to make substitutions challenging.
    John Hunter recently posted..Airport Security with Lean Management PrinciplesMy Profile

    • Mark Graban
      Twitter:
      says:

      It’s sort of sad that my university was apparently wholly unaware of NCAA rules that require a bare minimum of 6 feet of space around the field (they consider 12 feet ideal).

      Ignorance of rules and regulations (or the law) is certainly no excuse.

  3. Liz Guthridge
    Twitter:
    says:

    Thanks for raising these important issues, Mark! Hope you had a good time at the game, even though our alma mater lost.

  4. Mark Graban
    Twitter:
    says:

    For those who are interested in more of a sports take on the day and the game, click here:

    http://www.uniwatchblog.com/2010/11/20/wrigley-rules-er-wrigley-rules/

  5. Mark R Hamel
    Twitter:
    says:

    Hi Mark,

    It’s kind of like opting for a 3 foot aisle-way because that’s all you can fit. That type of thinking (including a lack of non-negotiable criteria) usually causes a bunch of problems from a safety and logistics perspective.

    Condolences on the Wildcat’s loss.

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